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Of Curbs and Cutaways

Woman Writing in her Journal

This is a story of curbs and cutaways. Yep, those little red bumpy squares on the corners of sidewalks that allow people with a visual or physical disability to independently move easily about their neighborhood, their town, or city. This story was our experience with them several years ago. 

Of Curbs and Cutaways

Living with disability is something many of us may never experience until we are closer to the end of our days. For those unfortunate enough to become disabled in some way at the prime of their lives, or even as a child, comes a lifetime of navigating through the sometimes inhospitable landscape that is our world.

On top of that, when those of us with well meaning intentions, attempt to create spaces without the input of a person living with disability, the results can be less than satisfactory for them, as well as frustrating for those who love and care for them.

A time comes to mind when Cir and I attempted to take a “walk” (or roll in Cir’s case), and found ourselves at an impasse. We were so impressed with all of the new cutaways we’d seen all around the city that we were sure it would be smooth sailing (again rolling...) all the way to our destination - the main post office on Wolf Ledges about a half mile from where we lived. 

Curb Crosswalk

We made it almost to the end of our journey with only the occasional bump in the uneven sidewalk. We even made it across Main Street and over the bridge successfully. When we got to the end of the bridge, however, we were stopped in our tracks.

A curb with no cutaway. I stood there with Cir, sitting on his scooter trying to figure out how to continue on. The curb was too steep - about 4-5 inches high, so just riding over it was not an option.

Decisions, decisions....

We’d either have to turn around, go back over the bridge and down to Main St. where there was a cutaway, cross the street to the other side, which by the way, had no sidewalk. Go back up over the bridge, cross Wolf Ledges, and then Thornton, to finally reach our original destination. Or we could always make our way back home, get the car, load up the scooter, and come back.

Well, because there were two of us and we had been used to lifting the scooter in and out of the car, we decided to take our chances. We'd have Cir get out of the scooter and carefully lift it over the curb to the street. We could only hope neither of us would lose our balance and topple over in the process.

We chose the latter. We shouldn't have to go all the way home just because the city planners didn't think to add a cutaway on both ends of a street.

In the end, we did make it to the post office and decided to choose an alternate route home - which turned out to be equally as dangerous - over several sets of railroad tracks. Needless to say, we never attempted to go to the post office by scooter again.

I shared that story of curbs and cutaways to say this, the well-meaning city planners failed to anticipate the problems that could be caused by not including a cutaway on the opposite end of the bridge. This is most likely because they didn’t have a person who would actually need to use a mobility aide to cross that bridge on their planning committee.

Handicap Accessible Crosswalk

That’s why advocates are so important to us as we move forward to making our neighborhoods, towns, and cities more accessible. We need, not only those who are allies to the cause of accessibility, but also people who live with as many different types of disabilities as possible to be part of those committees.

The perception of what it’s like to experience the world for someone in a wheelchair, with limited vision or hearing, with PTSD, or any of the other numerous challenges that many of us live with everyday, will be invaluable to us as we make decisions on what changes need to be made within our living spaces.

As a caregiver for my husband, Cir, for the past 40+ years, I have become increasingly aware of the challenges of living with a physical disability. I can always think of ways to assist, however, I have come to realize that I learn best by taking into account the thoughts and suggestions of those who will actually use the spaces that are built or upgraded to accommodate them. We cannot make changes without their suggestions and insight.

Just as able bodied people have the ability to experience our community without having to ask for help, so should anyone who lives in each neighborhood be able to move about and experience all that there is to offer.

In this way, those with disabilities and the people who love them, will feel welcome. They will continue to live in and interact with the spaces, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

Earlier this year there was a webinar on designing accessible crosswalks by the United States Access Board. I'm happy to see this because is what's necessary - coming together to look at our public spaces in a way that will bring about changes that support our disabled community in positive ways.

Designing Accessible Crosswalks Webinar

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Cir & Akrista

You are reading original content written by Akrista or Cir L'Bert of Life in Spite of MS. If you enjoyed reading this blog, please consider following us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. See you there!

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